(JNS) Muhammad Abu Al-Kiyan, an Israeli man in his mid-30s from the Bedouin town of Houra who murdered four Israelis in a combined car-ramming and knife-stabbing attack in Beersheva on Tuesday, appeared to have acted in line with instructions found in ISIS attack manuals, a senior terrorism expert has told JNS.
Al-Kilyan first ran over a cyclist and then stabbed to death a gas-station employee, as well as two women and a man, in the worst terror attack Israel has seen in recent years. Police said he appeared to have acted alone.
The terrorist was shot dead by an Israeli bus driver and a second civilian on the scene, video footage posted on social media showed.
“In principle, his activity is similar to ISIS. In its manuals, ISIS calls for ‘lone-wolf’ attackers to use vehicles for ramming attacks, and when these can’t drive any further, to stop and use sharp knives for stabbings,” explained Michael Barak, a senior researcher at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya who teaches courses on terrorism and Islamic radical movements.
According to ISIS manuals, “this creates maximum carnage. This attack is very similar to what ISIS preaches in its manuals. He may have been exposed to this propaganda,” he added.
According to Ynet, in 2016, Abu Al-Kiyan, a former middle-school physical-fitness teacher in Hora, was sentenced to four years in prison for setting up an ISIS cell, in which he served as a spiritual mentor. He took part in meetings of ISIS supporters and was charged with incitement to terrorism.
He was also convicted of trying to reach Syria to join ISIS with fellow ISIS supporters in 2015.
Southern District Prosecutors asked for a severe sentence at his trial, but the presiding judge at the time said the defendant regretted his actions in a way that “looks honest.” The four-year sentence was the result of a plea bargain.
Abu Al-Kiyan reportedly acted frequently as a mosque preacher in Houra. Between 2013 and 2015, he met with ISIS supporters near the mosque, and his followers included a man who ended up joining ISIS in Syria and being killed in battle there. Abu Al-Kiyan and other plotters planned to travel to Saudi Arabia, and then make contact with people who could get them into Syria, according to the trial material. They even turned to Twitter for help in this scheme.
Barak said Israeli authorities had erred by not monitoring Abu Al-Kilyan after his release, saying that a mechanism is needed to ensure former ISIS prisoners do not harbor murderous intentions, as occurs in the West.
Barak warned that the attack, coming close as it does to the Muslim holiday of Ramadan and to Land Day on March 30, could help make explosive dates even more attractive to future attackers. The Israel Police says it is on alert for copycat terrorists.
Maj. (res.) Tal Beeri, head of the research department at the Alma Center, which monitors security threats, said that the “situation that has been created following the attack in Beersheva forms fertile ground for a campaign of incitement and influence on the part of Iranians and Hezbollah on social media among Jewish public opinion on the one hand, and Arab public opinion on the other in Israel.”
He said the conditions are similar to the lead-up to the last May’s 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. “The goal: creating disquiet and division in the fabric of life in Israel,” he cautioned.
‘Hamas is strumming on these strings’
Barak said the violence in Beersheva contributes to existing tensions and to Hamas’s ongoing incitement campaign that is raging on social media and its own media.
“Hamas has been threatening to escalate, like it did last year, claiming that Israel ‘seizes homes from Arabs in Jerusalem, the Negev and the Galilee. Hamas is again threatening to set fire to the ground,” said Barak.
He also called attention to the appearance of a “Jewish militia in the Beersheva area set up to safeguard local civilians. There are Islamist elements presenting this as a plot against Arabs and part of an effort to conquer Islamic lands. This also adds to the fire. Hamas is strumming on these strings,” he said.
In recent weeks, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian factions announced the launch of a new “mechanism” designed to coordinate between themselves and Arab Israelis.
While the efficiency of this channel is far from clear, it does show that Hamas is trying to level a “psychological weapon against Israel, warning it that if it continues to ‘harm’ Arab Israelis, Hamas will respond,” explained Barak. “This is a lesson from the May conflict. Hamas wants to recruit Arab Israelis. It is trying to tell Arab Israelis: ‘You have an address. We will deal with Israel.’ This is influencing the entire atmosphere.”